Etiquette guide for 'refer-a-friend' credit card programs

You want that bonus, but you don't want to lose your friend. Here's how

Allie Johnson
Personal Finance Writer
Award-winning writer covering consumer and small-business credit cards.

6 things to consider for 'refer-a-friend' bonus programs

Photo by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash

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Card issuers promote refer-a-friend deals as an easy way to earn extra points or cash. But take the wrong approach and your credit card could drive a wedge in your friendship.

Shopping and applying for credit is a personal decision, so you might wonder if it’s possible to take advantage of a refer-a-friend for a credit card program without causing a situation in which your friend feels sold to, pressured or persuaded to get a card that could be a bad match.

“Overall, I don’t think it’s a great idea,” says Thomas Faupl, a psychotherapist who specializes in the psychology of money. He says he receives the offers and just hits “delete.”

At the same time, the deals can be lucrative, so it might be tempting to hit up a few pals and hope for the best.

For example, the Chase Refer-a-Friend program offers 10,000 points for each person who uses your referral link to apply and gets approved for a card. You can earn up to 50,000 points, worth at least a cool $500, per year.

And Discover will give you a $50 statement credit for each referral who becomes a cardholder, also allowing you to rack up $500 annually.

For a full list of credit card refer-a-friend bonuses, check out our comprehensive list of credit card refer-a-friend programs.

Refer-a-friend etiquette guide

  1. Don’t corner a friend with an offer unless the subject comes up naturally.
  2. Use social media to spread the word.
  3. Dont send out an email blast.
  4. Keep your friend’s interests at heart.
  5. Target an easy win, such as your spouse or partner.
  6. Don’t follow up with repeated reminders.

If you take the right approach, your referral could end in a win-win with points for you and perks for your friend, too. Here are six do’s and don’ts for referring a friend for a credit card:

1. Dont corner a friend with an offer.

It’s a bad idea to bring up a credit card offer out of the blue, says Christine Maxwell, who blogs about finances at Her Money Moves. She mentions her referral link only if the topic of credit comes up naturally.

“It’s super awkward unless you’re already talking about credit cards,” she says.

Jim Wang, founder of the personal finance blog Wallet Hacks, agrees. “I never approach a friend to tell them about a card,” he says, adding that he doesn’t like “pushing” referrals on friends. But he has ended up suggesting the Chase Southwest Airlines Rapids Rewards card to a lot of friends.

"I'll mention that we flew somewhere and my wife flew for free because of the Companion Pass. They'll ask how we got the pass, and the conversation evolves from there."

Typically a referral happens when a friend hears about one of his card perks, especially the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. After he returns from a trip, friends often ask questions. “I’ll mention that we flew somewhere and my wife flew for free because of the Companion Pass,” he says. “They’ll ask how we got the pass, and the conversation evolves from there.”

2. Spread the word on social media.

Make use of social media to avoid singling out one friend and to cast a wider net for people who are in the market for a card. Chase makes it easy, offering Facebook and Twitter buttons that allow you to share your referral offer in a post.

However, a better approach would be to start a conversation by posting about a benefit you get from your card, Maxwell says. If friends express interest in how you got the perks, you can then share your referral link in a comment.

For example, Maxwell’s husband recently posted a photo of the glass of Champagne he was sipping in The Centurion Lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The benefit comes with the AmEx Platinum Card. “People were commenting like crazy on his Facebook post,” Maxwell says.

She says she often makes similar posts about her card benefits, like talking up a free flight she got with miles. “Once people are curious, I’ll tell them more and then let them know if they use a referral, they will get a bonus, too,” she says.

3. Don’t spam your pals.

Card companies also make it easy to hand over your friend’s email address, which could easily tick off a spam-averse pal. In fact, Chase allows you to enter the email addresses of up to 25 friends per day.

Once in possession of the email addresses, Chase will send a card offer email on your behalf. Don’t do it, says Maxwell. “That’s spammy, and nobody likes that.”

Also, Chase’s FAQ states that they won’t send your friends any additional marketing emails, but a friend might not know that and could feel like you’ve “sold” their email to a card company.

If you want to use email, send the referral link yourself or at least get your friend’s OK before handing over their info to a card issuer.

4. Keep your friend’s interests at heart.

Rather than focusing on the benefit to you, put yourself in your friend’s position, Faupl recommends. Consider the fact that your friend might not need a card or might have a low credit score and be unable to qualify as most high-end rewards cards require an above-average score to be approved.

Even if your friend is in the market for a credit card, it’s probably best for them to do their own research to find the best fit, Faupl says. They should consider factors such as rewards structure, interest rates and whether there’s an annual fee. “Think about what’s best for them,” he says.

"Once people are curious, I'll tell them more and then let them know if they use a referral, they will get a bonus, too."

Also consider what perks, if any, your friend will get. For example, many of the Chase cards offer a sign-up bonus for friends of cardholders, but that might not be any better than the sign-up deal they could get on their own.

If that’s the case, don’t portray the offer as something they can only get because of your referral. In some cases, they might even be able to get a better deal somewhere else, Wang says.

Discover now offers a $50 credit to both the cardholder who makes the referral and to their friend. In any kind of referral, a clear benefit to both sides can lead to both people feeling good, says Debra Kaplan, who points to a recent situation where she was at an event and mentioned she was hungry. An acquaintance gave her a referral link for Uber Eats.

“I got a discount on my first Uber Eats, she got a discount on her next purchase and it was happy for both of us all the way around,” she says.

5. Consider an easy win.

Even if you prefer to sidestep the potential pitfalls of referring friends, you can still benefit from the refer-a-friend programs. One easy way is to “refer” your spouse, then reap the rewards together. Or you might ask make a well-timed suggestion to a close relative, such as a parent or sibling. Finally, you could refer a “friend” you met online.

For example, members of the frequent flyer site Flyer Talk trade referrals on a forum. While you should always read the fine print on any program, card issuers generally don’t care whether your referral is someone you just found online or the bestie you’ve known since kindergarten.

For Chase, there are “no restrictions other than Chase employees cannot refer prospects and there is a yearly cap of five successful referrals (approved accounts),” says Lauren Ryan, communications director for Chase Card Services.

And for Discover, “We don’t put specific parameters around who one might consider a friend as it relates to our Refer-a-Friend Program,” Discover spokesman Jeremy Borling says.

6. Don't pester your pal.

If a friend says they’ll apply for a card, you might wonder what happened and when you’ll get your points. But it’s best not to get attached to the outcome, Kaplan says. And definitely do not call the credit card company to ask if your friend got approved.

Chase’s terms and conditions state that they cannot tell you the status of your friend’s application or reveal whether they got the card. And definitely don’t bug your friend about the status of their application. “I think it would be in pretty poor taste, friendship-wise, to follow up,” Maxwell says

When that reward does hit your account, if your friend didn’t receive a bonus from the card company, you might consider taking them to lunch or giving them a small gift to share the wealth.

See related: Strategies for spouses doubling up on rewards


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Updated: 11-19-2018